Joseph Torre was born July 18, 1940, in Brooklyn, New York, the youngest of five children, two girls and three boys to a New York City Police officer father and a mother, Margaret. He is of Italian descent. His siblings include two older brothers, Frank Torre, and Rocco, and an older sister, Marguerite. Torre followed in his brother Frank Torre’s footsteps when he was signed by the Milwaukee Braves as an amateur free agent in 1960. In his first season in the minor leagues with the Class A Eau Claire Bears, he won the 1960 Northern League batting championship with a .344 batting average. Torre made his major league debut late in the season on September 25, 1960. He was assigned to the Triple A Louisville Colonels for the 1961 season where, the Braves had planned to groom him as the eventual successor to their All-Star catcher, Del Crandall. However, those plans were changed when Crandall injured his throwing arm in May 1961, forcing the Braves to promote Torre to the major leagues with just over a year of minor league experience.Torre rose to the occasion, hitting for a .278 batting average with 21 doubles and 10 home runs. He finished the season ranked second to Billy Williams in the 1961 National League Rookie of the Year voting.
Crandall resumed his role as the number one catcher in 1962 while Torre stayed on as the back-up catcher. By the 1963 season, the Braves had begun to play Crandall at first base as Torre had taken over the starting catcher’s role. He ended the season with a .293 batting average with 14 home runs and 71 runs batted in and, earned a spot as a reserve for the National League team in the 1963 All-Star Game. In December 1963, the Braves traded Crandall to the San Francisco Giants leaving Torre as the undisputed number one catcher.
Torre had a breakout year in 1964 when he hit 12 home runs along with a .312 batting average by mid-season and was voted to be the starting catcher for the National League in the 1964 All-Star Game. He ended the season with a .321 batting average, fourth highest in the league, along with 20 home runs and 109 runs batted in and led National League catchers with a .995 fielding percentage. Despite the fact that the Braves finished the season in fifth place, Torre ranked fifth in voting for the 1964 National League Most Valuable Player Award.
In 1965, Torre won his first of two NL Player of the Month awards when he took the honour for May, batting .382, with 10 HR, and 24 RBI. Torre was once again voted to be the starting catcher for the National League in the 1965 All-Star Game and won his first and only Gold Glove Award. He ended the season with 27 home runs and 80 runs batted in although his batting average dipped to .291. In his book, The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, baseball historian Bill James said the decision to award Torre the 1965 Gold Glove was absurd, stating that he was given the award because of his offensive statistics and that, either John Roseboro or Tom Haller were more deserved of the award. In an article for the St. Petersburg Independent that year, Beat Generation author Jack Kerouac called Torre “the best catcher since Roy Campanella.”
The Braves relocated to Atlanta for the 1966 season and would play their games in the new Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium which, due to its less dense atmosphere in the high elevation in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, made it favorable to home run hitters, resulting in the nickname The Launching Pad. On April 12, 1966, Torre hit the first major league home run in the history of the Atlanta stadium. Torre would produce a career-high 36 home runs with 101 runs batted in, a .315 batting average, a .382 on-base percentage and, led National League catchers with a 48.6% caught stealing percentage. He was voted as the starting catcher for the National League All-Star team for the third successive year. His offensive production tapered off in 1967 with a .277 batting average with 68 runs batted in although he still hit 20 home runs and won his fourth consecutive start in the 1967 All-Star Game. He posted another sub-par season in 1968 with a .271 batting average, 10 home runs and 55 runs batted in however, he led National League catchers with a .996 fielding percentage. Before the 1969 season, Torre became embroiled in a feud with Braves General Manager Paul Richards over his salary. Eventually, the Braves would trade Torre to the St. Louis Cardinals for the 1967 Most Valuable Player Award winner, Orlando Cepeda.
The Cardinals had Tim McCarver as their starting catcher so Torre replaced the departed Cepeda as their first baseman for the 1969 season. His offensive statistics rebounded and he ended the season with a .289 batting average with 18 home runs and 101 runs batted in. In 1970, the Cardinals traded away McCarver along with Byron Browne, Curt Flood and Joe Hoerner to the Philadelphia Phillies for Dick Allen, Jerry Johnson and Cookie Rojas. Allen took over as the Cardinals’ first baseman while Torre split his playing time between playing third base and sharing catching duties with young prospect Ted Simmons. His offensive statistics continued to improve; he hit 21 home runs with 100 runs batted in and finished second to Rico Carty in the National League batting championship with a .325 batting average.
The Cardinals made Simmons their full-time catcher in 1971, leaving Torre to concentrate on playing third base. Freed from the mentally challenging, strength-sapping job of catching, Torre had a career-season offensively. He was hitting for a .359 batting average at mid-season and was voted to be the starting third baseman for the National League in the 1971 All-Star Game. He was named NL Player of the Month for the second and final time in August (.373, 5 HR, 27 RBI). Torre won the National League Batting Championship, hitting .363 and led the league with 137 runs batted in, en route to winning the 1971 National League Most Valuable Player award. Adapting to a new defensive position proved to be a challenge as Torre led the league’s third basemen with 21 errors. In December, he was awarded the 1971 Hutch Award, given annually to the player who best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire of Fred Hutchinson.
In 1972, Torre won his second consecutive starting role as third baseman for the National League in the All-Star Game. However, his offensive numbers for the season dipped to a .289 batting average with 11 home runs and 81 runs batted in. After two more sub-par seasons, the Cardinals traded the 34-year-old Torre to the New York Mets for Ray Sadecki with Tommy Moore.
With the Mets in 1975, Torre became the third player in major league history, and first in the National League, to hit into four double plays in one game. Felix Millán singled in all four of his at-bats hitting ahead of Torre, and at a post-game press conference, Torre joked about his own performance by saying “I’d like to thank Félix Millán for making this possible.” When Torre’s batting average fell to .247 in 1975, it appeared his best years might be behind him. However, his average rebounded 59 points in 1976, and he finished the year with a .306 batting average. In May 1977, the Mets fired manager Joe Frazier and named Torre as their player-manager. Because he believed he could not do the job properly while still playing, he decided to retire at age 37. He did serve 18 days as a player-manager (only having 2 at-bats), becoming the second of three players in the 1970s to take on both roles (Frank Robinson, in the two previous seasons with the Cleveland Indians, and Don Kessinger, in 1979 with the Chicago White Sox, were the others.)
Torre managed the Mets from 1977 to 1981 season, but failed to improve the team’s record. After five years without a winning season, he was fired at the end of the strike-shortened 1981 season. In 1982, Torre replaced Bobby Cox as the manager of the Atlanta Braves, and immediately guided them to a Major League-record 13 straight wins to open the season. The Braves slipped to second place in 1983, but with their 88–74 record, won just one fewer game than the previous season, and marked the first consecutive winning seasons for the organization since moving from Milwaukee in 1966. In 1984, Atlanta slipped to 80–82 the following season but, again finished runner-up in the division (tied with Houston Astros). He was fired after the 1984 season. From 1985 to 1990, Torre worked as a television color commentator for the California Angels. Torre also worked as a color commentator for NBC’s Game of the Week telecasts alongside Jay Randolph. While working as a guest analyst for ESPN during the 1989 World Series, Torre was on hand for the Loma Prieta earthquake (October 17, 1989.) n 1990, Torre replaced the popular Whitey Herzog as Cardinals manager and posted a 351–354 record. Torre was fired in June 1995 for his poor record that year as part of a rebuilding project while Anheuser-Busch prepared to sell the team.
Torre served as the Yankees manager under owner George Steinbrenner, who was famous for frequently firing his team’s managers. Torre lasted 12 full seasons, managing 1,942 regular season games, with a won-loss record of 1,173–767. He took the team to the postseason every one of his twelve seasons with the club, winning six American League pennants and four World Series. By far the longest tenure for a Yankees manager in the Steinbrenner era, Torre’s was the second-longest tenure in club history: only Joe McCarthy lasted longer. Torre is the only Yankees manager who was born in New York City.
In 2007, Torre achieved his 2000th win to become the first major league employee to win 2000 games as manager and collect 2,000 hits. He later notched his 2,010th managerial win, overtaking Leo Durocher for ninth place on the MLB all-time managerial wins list. Next, he passed Stengel on the Yankees all time managerial wins list in 2007 and recorded his 1,150th victory with the Yankees. Torre led the Yankees to their 13th consecutive postseason appearance.
After two Yankees losses to the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series, Steinbrenner said in an interview that Torre’s contract would not be renewed if the Yankees did
not defeat the Indians. The Yankees saved their season, and potentially Torre’s job, for one day, as they won Game 3 at Yankee Stadium. Following the Yankees’ elimination the following night, earning them another first-round exit, Torre’s fate remained uncertain. That night, as he went out to make what would be his last pitching change with the team, the fans in Yankee Stadium gave him a standing ovation and chanted his name.
After the season, the Yankees met with Torre and offered him a one-year contract with a $5 million base pay and $1 million bonuses, to be paid for each of three benchmarks the team would reach: winning the American League Division Series; winning the American League Championship Series; and winning the World Series. Further, had the Yankees reached the World Series, that would have automatically triggered an option for a new contract the following year. In spite of a pay cut from an average of $6.4 million over the previous three seasons, the new terms would have kept him as the highest-paid manager in the game.
Yankee Global Enterprises chairman Hal Steinbrenner “explained the rationale behind the offer, which was nonnegotiable.” Yankees president Randy Levine commented, “We thought we needed to go with a performance-based model. It’s important to motivate people based on performance.” George Steinbrenner, due to advancing age and deteriorating health, had noticeably less influence in the day-to-day operation of the club. Of the ultimatum he issued during the playoffs, his son Hal denied that his comments influenced the terms of the contract they presented to Torre.
The New York media portrayed the offer as an insult. Torre turned it down, ending his era with the Yankees. On October 19, 2007, he held a news conference to explain his decision. After first thanking George Steinbrenner, he remarked, “I just felt the contract offer and the terms of the contract were probably the thing I had the toughest time with.”
Of the aftermath, Wallace Matthews of Newsday commented, “They are very slick, these thugs running the Yankees. … They have been trying to figure out a way to whack Torre while making it appear as if Torre whacked himself. What they came up with was brilliant in its innovation and chilling in its cynicism, but ultimately transparent.” Opined Mike Lupica, “It was just the most famous disagreement we are ever likely to see in baseball, the most famous manager telling the people who run the most famous team to take their job and shove it. A manager finally fired the Yankees.” Added Joel Sherman, “Torre erred in turning down the Yankees’ proposal to stay in the position that has made him rich and famous beyond what he could have dreamed a dozen years ago.” He also walks “away from that juice as much as the ownership.”
On February 3, 2009, Torre released a book about his experiences with the Yankees, called The Yankee Years, co-authored by Tom Verducci. Torre returned to Yankee Stadium for the first time since vacating the Yankees managerial job on September 20, 2010, to pay respect to George Steinbrenner on the night of the previous owner’s monument being unveiled in Monument Park.
In 2002, Torre and his wife Ali established the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation. In October 2007 the Foundation partnered with the Union City, New Jersey Board of Education and the North Hudson Community Action Corporation (NHCAC) to establish the Foundation’s Margaret Place initiative at Union City, New Jersey’s José Martí Middle School, with a $325,000 donation from Verizon. It continues to receive yearly funding from that company of up to $65,000. The Foundation’s mission is to educate and prevent domestic violence. Margaret’s Place is named after Torre’s mother, who was a victim of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of Torre’s New York City Police officer father when Torre was a child. Torre describes his father as a “bully”, and while Torre himself was not a target of his father’s violence, he has related that he never felt safe at home, and grew up in fear for his mother, saying, “I always felt responsible for it. I never thought I belonged anywhere. I never felt safe except on the ball field.” Margaret’s Place is a comprehensive program that provides students with a safe room in school where they can meet with a professional counselor trained in domestic violence intervention and prevention in order to address the student’s home situation and educate them to understand domestic violence’s impact on the community. The children are also given the opportunity to read, play games or talk about their experience with others. The program, which is administered by health care professionals from North Hudson Community Action Corp, also includes an anti-violence campaign within the school, and training for teachers and counselors. It has grown to 11 sites in the region, though Union City’s is the only such program in New Jersey.